How to identify a first edition, vintage book  (1900 - today)

How to identify a first edition, vintage book (1900 - today)

Every one of us wants to believe that the book that we found is our diamond in the rough. How many times I have imagined that the soft cloth exterior and unopened binding is the one that I’ve been looking for all of this time. But the question remains – how do you know that this book is indeed a collectible, first edition? 

The prevailing myth is that the copyright information holds the answer. Don’t believe everything you hear – or read! First edition identification varied widely among publishers until the early 1990’s. For example, prior to 1990, Dr. Seuss first edition books require their original dust jacket for authenticity. Missing the dust jacket? You are out of luck. Similarly, identifying first editions within the Nancy Drew series requires a dust jacket so that you can view the list of titles on the jacket. These titles indicate the year that the book was printed.  

But what about my rare Modern Library book?

It’s important to note that the concept behind Modern Library was to provide home libraries with classic novels and popular books of the time – which means that every single title is a reprint. But Modern Library books are highly collectible in their own right and so the question is distinguishing first editions within the series. Modern Library books printed from 1917 to 1925 usually include a date on the title page. This date indicates whether it is indeed the first edition. Modern Library titles issued from 1919 to 1970 all came with dust jackets, which included numbers (many of which changed during the years) and particular bindings. More importantly, the writing and / or illustrations on the dust jacket can help you date it to see if it is a first edition Modern Library book. Many first edition Modern Library books printed after 1925 state First Modern Library Edition.

And when you still aren’t sure, take a look at the binding. Early editions had a leatherette binding. Editions from the 1930s are bound in balloon cloth, which was rubber and cotton woven together.

Little Golden Books

Collecting LGBs is a popular, and often inexpensive hobby. First editions, on the other hand, can get very pricey very quickly, so it is good to know what you are looking at! Golden Books printed in the mid 1940s include the printing on the front or back of the first page. Those printed from the late 1940s through 1970 include a letter near the spine, where A is a first edition, B is second, etcetera. From the 1970s through 1991, the letter is on the bottom part, left side of the first page.

The General Rule 

If none of the above apply, take a look at what the book says on the information page. If it discusses a second printing, your edition is not a first edition. Is there a number or letter row? If so, you can determine the edition based on the lowest number in the row. A number 1 indicates a first edition.

Happy Hunting!

Back to blog